Cécile McLorin Salvant is a stunning singer with a peerless style and a knack for finding obscure jazz and blues songs and giving them new life. In just five years, Salvant has gone from an unknown upstart to the brightest new star in the jazz firmament, winning Best Jazz Vocal GRAMMYs for consecutive albums and resurrecting popular interest in the form. With an extraordinary range bolstered by rock-solid classical technique, she sings with her whole body, using physical movement to create new possibilities of timbre and tone. Wynton Marsalis did not mince words when he told The New Yorker just how important Salvant is to the future of jazz: “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” And though she sings with total command, Salvant’s concerts tend to be playful and disarming, a quality that has helped make her previous two sold-out appearances at Baldwin Auditorium feel intimate: she has the great singer’s gift of making you feel she is singing for you alone. At Durham Fruit & Produce, in one of the smallest rooms she will play all year, Salvant is joined by Sullivan Fortner, one of jazz’s most dynamic young pianists.
In October 2017, Duke Performances staged an elaborate one-hundredth birthday party for one of North Carolina’s most inventive artists and a true pioneer of jazz, Thelonious Monk. For ten days, many of jazz’s greatest musicians filled the arts venue and former warehouse Durham Fruit & Produce with the sounds of Monk’s songbook, sometimes playing it faithfully and sometimes splintering it entirely. There were engaging talks, spontaneous improvisations, and a listening room where fans could spend time with Monk’s records. Raleigh artist André Leon Gray turned the building into a shrine to Monk’s genius and a playhouse for his legacy. Durham brimmed with “moments when the spirit of Monk’s piano playing got called up and shocked back to life in the air of the present day,” according to a rave review of the festival in The New York Times. This season, Duke Performances returns to the historic warehouse for another extended musical meditation, In the Jazz Tradition, a seven-day series featuring some of the most important women vocalists in jazz today. In recent years, a legion of jazz singers has drawn inspiration from flashpoints in race relations and the struggle for gender equality, commanding a renewed sense of urgency with their music and reaffirming the relevance and popular appeal of jazz itself. Durham visual artist Stacy Lynn Waddell — who, much like the series’ singers, explores how traditional forms can express contemporary themes — will transform the space, setting the scene for a timely update on familiar jazz traditions.